One of the standouts of Tennessee 's spring game may have to wait longer than expected to make his Volunteer debut -- and his absence may be felt more than expected if he does.
Per the Associated Press, Butch Jones confirmed Friday that true freshman defensive end Corey Vereen will miss at least five weeks after spraining the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Vereen underwent surgery Thursday.
Jones would not set a more specific timetable for Vereen's return, citing uncertainty in the healing process. A five-week recovery would put Vereen back on the field for the Vols' Week 2 date against Western Kentucky, though Vereen's availability for much bigger games -- at Oregon in Week 3, and then at Florida in Week 4 -- would be in jeopardy if he remained out much longer than that.
When Vereen signed with the Vols last February as a three-star recruit out of Winter Garden, Fla., few would have projected his loss five months later to be a major one. But Vereen enrolled early and shone in spring practice, collecting four sacks in the spring game and raves from his coaches.
“I love him,” veteran Vols defensive line coach Steve Stripling said, per the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “I promise you, at nine o'clock at night you'll find him in [the football complex] doing something. He is the most motivated freshman I've ever seen in my career. He is unbelievable.”
Vereen's big spring had already led to projections that he would see playing time early and often at the Vols' "Leo" defensive end spot. Those projections seems all the more likely to come to pass when "Leo" starter Jacques Smith was ruled out for four-to-six weeks with a broken thumb just the day before.
With Jones suggesting that Smith could be back in time for the Vol season opener against FCS Austin Peay -- a game the Vols can surely win with or without Smith -- it seems unlikely Smith would sit out any further than the Western Kentucky game at maximum. But Bobby Petrino's team could give the Vols a run for their money (the Vols' nervy escape from Troy last year being compelling evidence in favor), and if Smith was forced to miss the WKU game, Vereen's absence might suddenly loom quite large.
That's a lot of hypotheticals, of course; the most likely outcome is that Smith plays through his injury in Week 2 and that Vereen's development is merely slowed down by a few weeks. But given the uncertainty surrounding both players, it's still a headache Jones would much, much prefer to not be forced to deal with.